“Call on line three,” announces a voice over the intercom. I pick up the phone in the exam room, listen to the voice on the other end, and smile at the woman across from me as I answer. “Honey, I’m sure I washed it. Did you look in your drawer on the right side under the blue top?”
Most physicians would probably have stepped out of the exam room to take that phone call. Perhaps I should have, letting my patient think it was a real life-or-death emergency. Instead she saw the real me – a physician who is also a mother of an 11-year-old picking out clothes for her first school dance.
From the moment I became a physician, my personal and professional lives have refused to exist separately. I went into labor with my first child the night I was supposed to graduate from residency. A month later I started my new practice. Two more girls followed their sister’s lead, arriving healthy, on time and after office hours.
My life is full of interruptions. Nurses ask me questions as I precept residents. My kids call me during office hours to ask my permission to watch TV, to beg me to settle their disputes, to ask me to pick up last-minute school supplies or just to tell me they miss me. My husband calls to check whose turn it is to pick up the kids. At home, the hospital operator calls me as I sit down to dinner, read a bedtime story or sleep. I love being a physician just as I love being a wife and mother, and my patients and my children seem the better for it.
A dedicated parent
I have tried to include my children in my professional life when possible. They’ve all been on their share of home visits, the kind that are really more social than medical. I’ve visited their classrooms with the office skeleton, “Mr. Bones,” and gruesome old X-rays of swallowed coins, obviously broken bones and staples in fingers. They’ve often been with me when “strangers” (my patients) have stopped me on the street. They frequently hear from their friends that they saw me in the office, making me a bit of a celebrity in their young eyes: “I know your mom. She’s my doctor.”
Despite this, I am still just their mom. They expect me to be there for them when they need me and are frequent callers to my office for such emergencies as missing laundry and when there’s nothing good to eat in the house. My office manager knows that my children are a priority and works hard to accommodate last-minute schedule changes so I can go to a classroom party or on a class trip. For this, I am thankful.
A dedicated physician
I realize other physicians may think it unprofessional of me to have a brief telephone conversation with my daughter in front of a patient. And they may not agree with my occasional decision to wear a homemade paper corsage or a painted macaroni necklace or even a Mother’s Day crown with my white coat. But my patients don’t seem to mind. I suspect they already knew I had a life outside the office anyway. In fact, they seem genuinely happy to see me with my family doing ordinary things, even more so when I have just witnessed extraordinary things in their lives. I see my patients all over town: at church, school, basketball games and even the local Wal-Mart. I’ll often have groups of children in tow and I may not always look my best, but that’s OK. I think it makes me more approachable, someone who can relate to the same kind of problems they may encounter. My patients often tell me this. In fact, a young mother once told me she was relieved to see my daughter having a temper tantrum at the grocery store!
When patients have the opportunity to see me as a wife and mother as well as a physician, I believe it bolsters my credentials in their eyes. They see that I can juggle multiple demands. I can stay calm in a crisis. I give advice that’s grounded in the day-to-day reality of being a wife and mother. And just like them, I worry and fuss over adolescent children, aging parents and a middle-aged husband. In short, I try to live and practice family medicine.
I am glad I didn’t step out of the exam room to take that call.